Remote Observing and Astrophotography – Oct. 13, 2015 Meeting

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

Nammacher headshotThe October meeting will be held on the 13th at 7:30 PM in Peyton Hall. The talk will be by amateur astronomer Scott Nammacher, who will speak about the building of a private remotely controlled observatory in upstate NY. He will also discuss the equipment and the processes used to take astronomical images. The talk ends with the showing of some of his images. His web site is

Prior to the meeting there will be a meet the speaker dinner held at Winberies, Palmer Square in Princeton at 6PM. If you wish to attend, please email no later than noon on October 13.

Scott Nammacher grew up in Minneapolis, MN and as a small boy was first was introduced to astronomy by way of a “Star Party”. Also in college he took a course in astronomy. He then moved to New York to pursue a career in publishing and later in the financial field. Over the years, he commuted through Grand Central Station where Meade telescopes were prominently displayed in one of the stores. In 2003 he bought an 8-inch Go-To telescope to introduce his children to the wonders of the universe above. His interest grew as well, and he started doing astrophotography shortly afterwards. In 2008, he became interested in building a fixed-place observatory to expand his hobby. He found a place in upstate NY and built a full observatory by early 2009. He restarted his astrophotography work, but with a 12.5” and a 5” telescope and two specialized CCD cameras.

In 2012 he mounted his first one-man show, a three-month show at the Hudson Opera House in Hudson, NY. In 2015 he did his second full show with pictures from two remotely operated telescopes (one in Australia and the other in New Mexico) at the Pound Ridge Library.

Now through October 29 Scott’s photos are on display at the Somers Library, Route 139 & Reis Park, Somers, NY 10589. The exhibit is called “Treasures of the Northern and Southern Night Skies.”

Please join us for what will be an informative and interesting talk!

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From the Director

Rexby Rex Parker, PhD

Two down, two to go.  If the law of averages holds sway, the two special members’ events planned for October should take place in fine weather, since rain and clouds dismissed the two big events we’d arranged for September.

  • Astro Equipment Silent Auction & Picnic, Sunday October 18, 3:00 pm. The auction will go even if cloudy weather, but in even of rain the date is Oct 25.  Location is the Pavillion next to the Nature Center at Washington Crossing State Park.  AAAP members and family/friends are invited to participate.  See the detailed list of equipment to be auctioned below.  The club has recently acquired through donation several useful pieces of astronomy equipment, and it’s time to put these items in the hands of members.  This is your chance to pick up good a telescope, mount, eyepiece, book, and more, at unbelievably low prices.  Whatever doesn’t go at the auction will be sold on AstroMart.
  • Field Trip to the US Naval Observatory and Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC, Nov 2. All day field trip with a special guided tour of USNO in the evening.  The lucky 19 AAAP members and significant others who replied “yes” in the Survey will receive e-mails with logistics and travel info.  Thanks to Ira Polans for arranging the tour!

Just couldn’t persuade the weather makers.  After so many clear nights in August and early September there was reason to believe in Jersey StarQuest Sept 11-12.  Yet it was not to be.  The new walk-in registration strategy with minimal advance work by members was the right one, as Saturday was rainy.  Despite Friday the 11th actually being clear, dew was a big problem on the field after rainy days earlier.  Silver lining:  9-11 was a great night with large turnout at the AAAP Observatory at Washington Crossing – special thanks go to Team 6 and the Observatory Chairs for running an excellent deep sky show.  Similarly, the Sept 27 lunar eclipse session at the Observatory was announced to much interest by members and public.  Given the highly touted “blood moon” PR and the fact that this would be the last eclipse visible here for a few years, we aimed for a good turnout. Yet, again after a week of clear weather, the sky on the 27th was pasty white and not a single glimpse of the moon was seen here.

Next Meeting at Peyton Hall (7:30 pm, Oct 13). Our tradition of interesting and inspiring speaker presentations continues this month with a talk by amateur astronomer Scott Nammacher, who will speak about building and operating remotely controlled observatories in upstate NY and more distant locations.  Check out the article by program chair Ira Polans in this issue and on the AAAP website

List of Astro Equipment to be Auctioned by AAAP

Oct 18 at 3:00pm at WC State Park

Auction is restricted to members and family and friends.

Caveat emptor, AAAP does not warrant any item.  The buyer may need to find additional parts to fully use some of the equipment.  For reference the estimated price when new is listed for some items, but this is not to suggest selling price.

  • Telescopes
    • Celestron Omni XLT102 refractor (Model #21088), 102 mm D, 1000 mm focal length, Starbright XLT coatings. Matches CG4 mount, below.  $410 with mount
    • Explore Scientific AR152 refractor, air spaced double achromatic, f/6.5, 152 mm diameter, 988 mm focal length, doublet air spaced achromatic refractor, with Vixen-type mounting rings (fits any V-type dovetail). $750
    • Edmond 8 inch, f/5 Newtonian reflector telescope, model 4001, “classic” (late70’s -early 80’s), with unique Edmund tripod mount, with RA clock drive, all original. In very good condition considering the vintage, mirror looks good.
    • Meade 10 inch f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector telescope, model MTS SC10, “near-classic” (mid-80’s), with fork mount and pedestal (original); no electronics included although it appears the scope originally came with Meade LX3 drive.  In good condition, optics in good shape.  Could be adapted to other mounts.
    • Orion Newtonian Telescope (Astrograph), 10 inch diameter, f/3.9, with cooling fan, and Vixen-type mounting rings (can put on any V-type dovetail). $690
    • Skyquest 6″ Dobsonian Newtonian reflector, $310
    • Orion ED80 short tube refractor, 80 mm, f/5. Good scope to use as CCD autoguider or for lunar or wide-field observing.  $110
    • Polar finder scope, 6 degree FOV, 50 mm
  • Mounts & Tripods
    • Celestron Omni XLT CG4 equatorial mount; matches Omni XLT scope above.  Includes counterweight bar and weights, controller for a motor drive with parts (uncertain if drive is complete;  new CG4 motor drive price $140).
    • Ioptron iEQ-G45-GTN equatorial mount with heavy duty tripod and hand controller, weights, power supply. $1800
    • Orion Atlas EQ-G mount, with heavy duty tripod, but no counterweight or bar. Includes hand controller and power cord. $1500 (with all parts)
    • Losmandy G11 equatorial mount, complete with counterweights and bar, drive motors, control electronics, hand controller. Very good condition. $2000.
    • Losmandy G11 equatorial mount, Gemini Go-To version 1, complete with counterweights and bar, drive motors, Gemini Go-To v.1 computer control electronics, hand controller. Very good condition.  $2500
    • Small equatorial mount head, inexpensive but could be good for small refractor such as the Orion ED80 above.
  • Eyepieces & filters
    • Edmund RKE eyepiece collection, match the Edmund 8” Newtonian above.
    • Tele Vue Radian 18 mm 1.25″
    • Celestron Ultima LX 17 mm 1.25 – 2.0″ 70 degree fov
    • Orion Stratus 24 mm 1.25″ 68 degree fov
    • Orion Stratus 5 mm 1.25″ 68 degree fov
    • Orion Lasermate deluxe collimator, 1.25″
    • High Point 2x barlow, 1.25″
    • High Point 2x barlow, 2.0″
    • Explore Scientific 11 mm, 1.25″ 82 degree fov
    • Explore Scientific 4.7 mm, 1.25″ 82 degree fov
    • 6 lesser 1.25″ eyepieces
    • 7 color filters
  • Books and discs etc
    • Several DVDs
    • Astronomy Magazine Infinite Cosmos series – many of these
    • Sky at night CD ROMs
    • “The Great Courses” on DVD, college courses
    • Intro to Astronomy
    • Black Holes Explained
    • Dark Matter, Dark Energy
    • Life in our universe
    • Physics and Our Universe
    • DVD Math Courses, Algebra through Calculus
    • Several dozen books on astrophotography, star maps, dark matter, black holes
    • More…
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Minutes of the September 2015 Meeting of the AAAP

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

  • The meeting was called to order by the director at 7:30 pm. Rex talked briefly about two upcoming events:
    • Jersey Starquest, Sept 11-13, (since cancelled due to poor viewing conditions)
    • Club picnic and auction October 18, (rain date October 25th)
  • Ira introduced the speaker for the evening Dr. Paul Wiita and his talk “Measuring and Modeling Variability in Quasars and Blazars”.
  • After the lecture, Ira informed the club that speakers were confirmed through February with only March and May open at this time.
  • Michael and Surabhi are continuing to work on the updated website.  you can see the test site at . They are seeking feedback and plan to go live in 30-60 days.
  • A discussion was held on weather quality for Starquest and about when to cancel the event. The main question was, “Is one good night enough?” A decision will be made the Thursday before the event and sent to all club members.
  • The club will host a picnic and auction on October 18th at the pavilion by the nature center. There will be a silent auction of surplus astronomy equipment. A list will be provided by the Secretary. Members and non-members may bid. All funds raised to go toward future club activities. Volunteers are needed to help organize the picnic. Please contact Rex.
  • Observatory news:
    • There is currently not enough roof clearance to mount another scope with the HB refractor. Measurements will be done, and the feasibility of increasing the size of the “flap” at the end of the roof to enable another scope on that mount will be considered.
    • Testing was finally done to compare the two C-14 scopes in our possession. Eight out of nine testers (one abstention) agreed the newer of the two scopes was clearly superior and will be installed to replace the current scope. The old scope will be sold at the auction, but the winning bidder will not take possession until after the current viewing season ends in October.
    • The roof repair that had been postponed because of health reasons is scheduled for Friday, Sept 11th.
  • A trip to the US Naval Observatory is being planned. November 2 was the most common date chosen among the 19 club members who have expressed interest so far. The maximum size for the tour is 20. A trip to the Air and Space Museum is being considered for earlier in the day.
  • The club will host a lunar eclipse viewing event at the observatory on Sept 27th, weather permitting. It will be advertised on the website and our Facebook page. Bill Murray is organizing the event.
  • The astronomy talks at the Nature Center in Washington Crossing State Park are starting September 18th. Bill Murray will be giving the lectures this season.
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PPPL Colloquia and Saturday Science Series

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is resuming their colloquia series with some topics of interest to AAAP members.

October 21, 2015, 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Dr. James Burch
Southwest Research Institute


November 12, 2015, 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Dr. Thomas Sunn Pedersen
Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics


November 6, 2015, 2:15pm to 3:30pm
Professor Robert Goldston
Princeton University


December 9, 2015, 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Dr. Glen Wurden
Los Alamos National Laboratory


April 27, 2016, 4:00pm to 5:30pm
Dr. Joshua Frieman


All talks are held in the MBG Auditorium at PPPL.


More Upcoming Events

PPL Events Calendar

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Compiled by Michael Wright and David Kaplan

Evidence of liquid water on Mars: Scientists looked to dark streaks that form each summer on the slopes of Martian mountains, craters and canyons.

Telescope promising insight into universe’s origins  As India launches its first space telescope, BBC News looks at some of the innovations getting astronomers excited.


More Evidence for Coming Black Hole Collision: A new report supports the theory that two black holes in a galaxy 3.5 billion light-years away are headed for a cosmic collision of unimaginable scale. NYTimes

Is Titan submarine the most daring space mission yet?
Is a proposal to explore Saturn’s moon Titan with a submarine the most audacious space mission ever?

New Horizons resumes image return
New pictures are released from the New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto, as the probe starts its big data dump to Earth.


UK team plans ‘unsent letter’ to aliens
A group of 20 UK researchers decides to compose a message to aliens – but they are split over whether such a message should be sent into space.

When Congress Puts NASA on Hold, Planets Don’t Wait: Government shutdowns and congressional budget battles can have disastrous effects on scientific research. NYTimes

Your Move, NASA: Five friends launched their GoPro into space. When it didn’t come back, they thought it was lost forever—but it was just taking a two-year vacation, and filming a killer travelogue.

Lisa Pathfinder: Gravity quest set to go into orbit
Lisa Pathfinder is a fundamental physics experiment that will test the technology needed to detect gravitational waves – what are sometimes referred to as ripples in the curvature of space-time.

What Happened to Early Mars’ Atmosphere? New Study Eliminates One Theory
The amount of Martian atmosphere trapped by mineral formation appears inadequate to account for a warm environment when rivers cut valleys on ancient Mars.


At Saturn, One of These Rings is not like the Others
One section of Saturn’s rings may be loaded with chunks of solid ice, possibly shards from a destroyed moon, according to a new study by Cassini scientists.


‘Farewell’ pictures of Saturn moon DioneThe Cassini probe to Saturn returns its final close-up images of the Dione moon as it begins its “long goodbye”.


NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Has Next Mission After Pluto: The spacecraft will visit 2014 MU69, another piece of the frigid debris beyond Neptune along the Kuiper belt. NYTimes

$79 for an Out-of-Date Book About a Modern NASA Logo: A Kickstarter campaign by two designers aims to bring back a space agency graphics standard book, published in 1976, that reflects “modernist design thinking.” NYTimes

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From the Director


by Rex Parker, PhD

Return to Peyton Hall! After completing HVAC renovations and moving the entire Astrophysics Department back into Peyton Hall, Princeton University has graciously accepted our request to return to the Peyton Hall Auditorium for the new season. Beginning with our September 8 program we will convene again at 7:30pm in Peyton. Please see Ira’s column for information about the speaker presentation.

At the Sept. 8 meeting. we’ll also discuss plans for the two events items described below. I hope that you’ll take advantage of the astronomical delicacies that we’re serving up.

Upcoming AAAP Events

  • Jersey StarQuest, Sept 11/12. Here’s a redesign of the Star Party concept – to make it easier to participate with a focus on hands-on observational astronomy. Even if you don’t own a telescope, here’s your chance!
    • Walkin registration, no advance payment, no pre-registration needed. You can decide to attend at the last minute. We do ask that you send in a non-binding intent-to-participate form, if possible, so we can estimate needs for the Hope Conference Center. Download the form and more information here.
    • AAAP member event, a chance to make friends in the club. You’re also welcome to invite family and friends who may not yet be members.
    • Reduced prices: the cost per night is $20 for adults and $10 for children (ages 6-12), regardless of choice of bunkhouse or tent/RV camping.
    • No meals will be provided by the club. You should bring your own food and plates etc. The center’s kitchen will be available, and we may self-organize for carry-out food from local establishments. Hot and cold drinks will be available throughout the weekend.
  • Star Picnic and Astro Equipment Auction, Oct 18. (Oct 25 rain date). Start at 3:00pm at the pavilion next to the Nature Center at Washington Crossing State Park. Featuring:
    • Cookout picnic at the pavilion, with fun food and drinks and camaraderie with AAAP members and families.
    • Silent auction of telescopes, mounts, eyepieces and other astronomy equipment which AAAP has acquired in recent years. Since we have limited storage space these items definitely must go — this can be an opportunity to acquire astro equipment at incredibly low prices. More details will be provided next month.
    • Observing session will be held that evening at the nearby observatory if skies permit (note, sunset at 6:15pm).

 Celestron-14 Telescope Test – Results. Several members gathered on Aug 26 at WC Observatory for telescope and mount enhancement work. The Hastings 6.25-inch refractor was temporarily dismounted and the new C14 was placed onto the second Paramount-ME. This allowed unbiased, direct side-by side optical performance comparison of the newer and older C14’s on identical Paramounts.

First, Bill Murray and I adjusted collimation of both telescopes using the defocused diffraction pattern of a 3rd magnitude star to precisely center the secondary mirrors; collimation was equivalent for the two scopes. Star diagonals were removed and nearly identical 31 and 34 mm 2-inch eyepieces were directly inserted. The nine gathered members then observed three selected objects back-to-back through the two scopes and voted on performance after each object.

The test objects were Saturn; M-11 (the rich, “wild duck” open star cluster); and the double star Izar (Epsilon Boötis, mag 2.4 and 5.1, 3 arc-sec). Results were unequivocal: 7 of 8 members consistently favored the newer C14 images for all three objects (one observer did not vote). To my eye, the difference was surprisingly apparent. The newer telescope provided sharper, pinpoint stellar images, and Saturn’s ring division was more detectable. The double star showed baseline resolution in the newer but not the older C14.

The next step will be to organize a work party to swap out the older C14 with the newer one on the original Paramount. We plan to sell the older C14. Thanks to Bill, Dave, Jen, John, Gene, Arshad, Ira, and Michael for helping make this a convincing optical test.

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Measuring and Modeling Variability in Quasars and Blazars

by Ira Polans, Program Chair

Dr. Paul Witta

Dr. Paul Witta, TCNJ Physics Department Chair

The first talk of the 2015-2016 season marks our return to Peyton Hall. The meeting will be held on September 8 at 7:30 PM. The talk is entitled “Measuring and Modeling Variability in Quasars and Blazars” by Dr. Paul J. Witta of the Department of Physics of The College of New Jersey.

Prior to the meeting there will be a meet the speaker dinner held at Winberies, Palmer Square in Princeton at 6PM. If you wish to attend please email no later than noon on September 8.

Dr. Witta’s talk will be about active galactic nuclei, including quasars, which are extraordinarily powerful, emitting up to thousands of times as much energy as all the stars in their host galaxies. A minority of them also eject relativistic jets of plasma that form giant radio lobes. All active galactic nuclei are characterized by variability and blazars exhibit the strongest fluctuations. This enhanced variability is due to Doppler boosting of the flux emitted by relativistic jets that point close to our line of sight. We have been measuring variability of quasars and blazars in the optical band from various ground-based telescopes for the past 20 years and have more recently employed the Kepler satellite as well as various X-ray telescopes to gather dense, uniformly spaced data. After setting the context, he will present some of these results, as well as our numerical simulations of variations of radio flux from the turbulent regions behind shocks in the jets.

Dr. Wiita received his PhD in Physics from Princeton in 1976 for producing the first numerical models of radio galaxies. He did post-docs at the Universities of Chicago and Cambridge. He was on the faculty at UPenn and Georgia State University and has been Chair of the Physics Department at TCNJ since 2010. He has been a visiting professor at the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics and Princeton. His research has mostly been in extragalactic astronomy, with a focus on radio loud active galaxies.

The October meeting features a talk by Scott Nammacher about building a private remotely controlled observatory in upstate New York for astrophotography and imaging. More details will appear in Sidereal Times as it gets closer to the October meeting.


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Star Quest 2015 – September 11 – 13

Gene Ramsey, ready to go copy

Gene Ramsey, ready to go. Credit: Ludy D’ Angelo

StarQuest is on for September 11 – 13, 2015 at Hope Conference Center in Hope, New Jersey!

This year’s event will continue the simplifying trend of recent years with a focus on observing and socializing, and with significantly lower costs for attendees.  Bring your own observing equipment or meander between the telescopes of others in the group who will be happy to share their views of the sky with you.  Bill Murray will be creating a “Deep Sky Challenge” for those desiring to participate.

To be flexible, the event will be walk-in/pay-as-you-go for each night of attendance.  There will be no prepayment and no need to formally pre-register.  However, to communicate with Hope Conference Center our needs for the weekend, we ask that you fill out a non-binding, intention-to-attend form.  Your response will place you on an email list through which all final communication about the event will take place.  Please an email to for the form.

The event is open to all AAAP members and their family.  Members may invite select friends who have inquired about our event.  Please send this email to those who want to attend that may not be on our AAAP member email list so they can be informed and respond accordingly.

Accommodations will be men’s and women’s bunkhouses or you can bring your own tent or RV.  Bathroom and shower facilities are available.  The cost per night is $20 for adults and $10 for children (ages 6-12), regardless of choice of accommodation.

There will be no club prepared meals. The kitchen facilities at the center will be available for our use, however.  There has been discussion of ordering takeout food for the group. Those not inclined to take-out should feel free to band together to visit the local eating establishments or bring their own meals.  Hot and cold drinks and munchies will be available throughout the weekend.

In case of bad or questionable weather, the event will be cancelled. The go/no go decision will be made on the Thursday evening before the event and notification will be made via email.  Please check your email before leaving for the event.

Your intent-to-attend response and any other questions or correspondence should be sent to:

Regards, the StarQuest Team

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Minutes of the August 2015 Board Meeting of the AAAP

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

  • Rex brought the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m.
  • The first topic of the evening was that Peyton Hall should be ready for our September meeting. Rex will keep us informed. (It has since been confirmed that we will be back in Peyton Hall beginning with the September meeting).
  • Ira Polans announced that the Program Committee (Ira, Prasad Ganti, John Miller) has five speakers already confirmed for the upcoming meeting season.
  • The website is going through a thorough re-design by Surabhi Agarwal and Michael Wright and will hopefully be finished within 60 days. Members may preview the format at . This is a temporary site and may not be available at all times.
  • It was discussed how well the video was working for the observatory with the makeshift monitor and computers. It should only be better when all the new equipment is in place. One of the upgrades is a quality analog to digital converter to replace the generic one in use for testing.
  • Upcoming plans for the observatory include mounting the 10” Newtonian on the same mount as the HB refractor and testing the two C-14 scopes in our possession side by side to decide if one has noticeably better optics than the other. A work party is planned for August 26th.
  • The club will have a picnic on Sunday Oct 18th at the pavilion by the Nature Center in Washington Crossing Park provided the facilities are available. The rain date would be Oct 25th. An observing session will follow the picnic at the observatory provided the skies are clear enough. Rex will contact the park about availability.
  • StarQuest was discussed and it was decided to make it an observing-centered event. No advance registration will be required, and no food will be provided. Details will be sent out to all club members and should have been received by the time these minutes are published. If you missed them, click here.
  • It was decided to rotate the team schedule for the observatory so the same teams are not always working the same weekends every year. Team 2 will be the first team next year with Team 3 first the year after that and so on.
  • Meeting adjourned at 8:55 as the library was closing.
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